AN: So I like Daryl/Carol. If I have to ship a canon relationship, this is it. My first attempt at this and I admit, it's way harder than my slash. 0_o Anyway, I own nothing, blah blah blah. I hope you enjoy it.
Things at the farm had gotten a lot worse.
The weather was nice, which was welcome, but the air was beginning to threaten autumn.
There'd been a lot of strife within the group recently. There was talk of leaving, but even worse there had been talk of other survivors. No one was terribly keen on adding new members to the group – the group they already had was barely functioning as it was.
But the well-being of the group didn't concern Daryl.
Daryl had been withdrawing himself more and more from the interaction with the rest of them. Since Sophia's death he hadn't had it in him to talk to anyone. He tried goddammit. He actually tried. He cared and he tried. And it wasn't good enough. The little girl had gone missing and he had been the only one who hadn't given up in the first 48 hours. He'd spent more than a week looking and at the end of it all, he'd failed. Miserably.
They'd found her though. In the barn. With the other walkers. And she'd been turned into one of them.
The worst part of it was that Daryl hadn't been the one to put her out of her misery. Somehow, that hurt him worse than the look of utter torture that had crossed Carol's face. Somehow, he had failed her twice.
So, Daryl alienated himself. What good was he to anyone anyway? What good was he to Carol? He certainly didn't do Sophia any favours.
And he had been so terrible to Carol. He yelled. He swore. He told her she was useless. And she'd sat there and taken it all. All the horrible things that he could say to her, she'd sat there quietly while he yelled and abused her. She listened and let his temper carry him and when he'd almost lost it...
She'd have let him hit her if it made him feel better.
He knew most of her story. He had seen the abuse firsthand when they'd met. He'd seen the piece of trash husband she had. And he regretted not saving her first.
When he thought about it that way, he'd failed her three times.
Daryl was convinced that he could make it on his own. One person was a lot less likely to attract a horde of walkers than ten. He could travel quietly. He knew how to scavenge and to hunt, hell, he'd been doing that most of his life already. It seemed like it might be a good idea to have a go at it on his own.
He hadn't told anyone about his plans to leave. He wouldn't say anything until the very end of his stay with the rest of the group. Rick would try to stop him. So would Carol. He wasn't in the mood to fight with the rest of them, and he had no intentions of getting trussed up and tossed in the barn to cool off and reconsider.
He was relatively convinced that he wouldn't be missed after the first day or two, and that things would be better for all of them. So he began squirrelling away what he could to provision himself, just in case.
She hadn't been back to see him since their fight.
She stayed away from him, and kept her cards close to her chest. The rest of the group was busy with their own things, there was no need for her to add to the mix by moping about a spat with a man who had never truly returned her advances.
Part of her had to wonder if he really did care, or if her own feelings were mislaid.
She was hurt, but she understood. She knew that he'd never had anyone care about him, at least not in a normal way. She knew that he was just as broken as she was, but he chose to hide it behind his violent facade.
It was true, she was a victim, and she knew it, but she was damned if she was going to let that stop her from anything ever again. Sure, she wasn't explosive and she rarely raised her voice, but that was fine too. She was stronger than that, and she knew he was perfectly aware of it.
She knew that he was hurting, she could see it. She knew he blamed himself for what had happened, it was obvious. Daryl wasn't as subtle as he'd seemed to believe he was. She was only saddened that he wouldn't let her in. That he wouldn't forgive himself.
She wasn't sure that he'd ever believe that she didn't blame him. She didn't feel the need, but if it was what he needed to hear, she would forgive him and absolve him from all blame, if only he'd let her.
Part of her was sure that he hated her for just sitting by so long and letting her life fall apart. But she was also completely convinced that he understood her position more cohesively than anyone else had the right to.
And the more that she thought about it, the more she was convinced that he genuinely cared.
They'd both been so careful to avoid each other in the yard, that when their paths crossed, the meeting was mutually awkward.
"Sorry." Daryl mumbled. They'd walked into each other, quite literally.
Carol couldn't help but smile. She placed her hand gently against his arm. "No harm." She replied quietly.
Daryl's eyes darted to the gentle hand against his arm and then back to the face staring at him. She was really a lovely creature. She was older than he was, but he'd never bothered to ask by how much. Her hair was short, shorter than his now that he thought about it, and grey. It gave her a distinguished look of wisdom. And it suited her. She was thin, with narrow features, but soft. There was no harshness in her, despite the years of torment she'd suffered. And at he same time she did not look weak or pitiful. Her dark eyes were the crowning point in her face. Her beautiful, wide dark eyes, so full of sadness and yet with the spark of hope that Daryl saw when she looked at him.
He'd seen anger in those eyes. He'd seen pain and loss and sadness. And it killed him to think that he'd been the cause of some of it.
Daryl took her hand. "No." He said. He wasn't sure where he was going with it, but he'd said 'sorry' already, he might as well clear the air. Leaving on bad terms with her didn't sit well with him.
"No what?" Carol asked, confused.
Daryl shook his head. "I can't sit here knowing that you won't talk to me because I'm an asshole." He frowned. "That's not fair to you."
Carol gave him a mischievous look, a trace of a sarcastic smile playing about the corners of her mouth. "But you were an asshole." She replied.
The look of shock on Daryl's face was worth it. Carol was quite convinced that he'd never heard her curse before.
"Why don't you hate me?" Daryl asked.
"Why should I hate you?" Carol asked in return. "Because you get mad at me and act like an asshole?"
"For starters." Daryl replied with a nod.
Carol stared at him intently, studying his face. He looked tired. And rough. He'd seen his fair share of horror and heartache, but he wore it like a badge of honour. He carried it with him and wore it like a shield. He wouldn't let anyone screw with him ever again. And he was afraid to let anyone in because he wasn't entirely sure that he could trust them. And yet, his green eyes betrayed him.
"I put up with an asshole once already." Carol said. "And you know it." She folded her arms over her chest in defiance. "What I don't understand is why you can't just let it go."
Daryl narrowed his eyes. He could feel a fight brewing. He bit back his anger and calmed himself. Zen, Good Lord.
When Daryl didn't say anything, Carol took it as her chance to speak her mind.
"I'm tired of you pushing me away, Daryl. I understand, you blame yourself but what you don't realize is that I don't." He placed one hand against the back of her neck and turned her eyes away from him. "You have done more for me in the past few weeks than anyone has in my entire life. I would be lost without you – am lost without you." She bit her bottom lip nervously. "I can't stand to see you acting this way when I know you're hurt, I just..."
Daryl didn't say anything. How could he? He was afraid that anything he said would make this into a fight. And yet, he wanted her to back off. He wanted her to hate him, to blame him, to let Rick and the others take care of her. He was no good, and he would just let her down again.
Carol reached out and took his hand in both of hers. Whatever chores they had been doing were long forgotten.
"Don't leave me."
Daryl's eyes went wide. She'd known this whole time what he was planning and she let him go with it? She'd taken all his bullshit, all his abuse and simply turned it away with a quiet word. Daryl frowned.
"I don't deserve you." He said finally. "I let you down..."
"You haven't." Carol insisted. "You... If you had given up when Sophia..." She stopped, choking on the thought. She still had trouble talking about her dead daughter. She blinked back tears and looked at Daryl. "You'd have let me down if you'd stopped. If you'd given up."
"I failed." Daryl said. "It's my fault, I could've... If I'd been better, faster... Smarter."
Carol shook her head. "You did everything you could, more than anyone else dared." She smiled softly. "Let it go. You can't hold all this pain and hate inside, Daryl. Please, for me."
Daryl sighed. This woman! She was so frustrating. She refused to let Daryl seethe and loathe himself. She refused to let him take all the blame for her daughter's death. He didn't get it.
"What do you want from me?" Daryl asked finally, his voice hoarse and worn out.
"I don't want anything from you." Carol replied, moving closer. She looked up at Daryl. "Do I have to spell it out for you?"
Daryl frowned. "No..." He said quietly.
Carol stepped closer, resting her head against his chest. "Just don't leave me." She asked quietly.
Hesitantly, Daryl wrapped his arms around Carol. He was shocked at how small she was. After a long moment of the two of them standing there, Daryl moved one hand from Carol's back. He placed his hand gently against her chin, tilting her face towards him so he could look at her. They stood there, staring at one another silently.
Daryl leaned over and kissed her.